Mourning the Living
My dad is ill. He suffers from diabetes and hypertension among other things. He has to attend dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life. He almost died last year (2017) while on vacation, visiting family in Guadeloupe. He went for a week and ended up being there for a month in the hospital. While in Guadeloupe, he underwent two surgeries to have blood clots removed from his head. The blood clots developed as a result of him falling and hitting his head in the tub a few months prior, unbeknownst to his children. Luckily, my brother and aunt traveled with him so he wasn’t alone.
I ended up in Guadeloupe after receiving a text from my brother. I was hesitant on making the trip because I had just started a new job. You know how these things can go. I didn’t want to screw up this new opportunity if I didn’t have to. I had just made probation and didn’t want to start immediately taking emergency days and sick days. As the new employee, this practice is always noticed and frowned upon. However, it was in my brother’s response that I knew he was beginning to feel like something could go left. All of the time prior, my brother assured us that our father would pull through and that he continued to make progress.
Except for this particular time, after the second surgery when I checked in for an update, he wasn’t sure. He said he didn’t feel right. In that moment, I purchased my ticket to fly down. Not that there was anything I could do to change my father’s condition. I really just wanted to make sure I was there if he didn’t make it through. I needed to see him one last time. I needed him to know that I was there for him.
My brother was relieved to see me. I could see it in his face when he picked me up from the airport. I supported him and assured him that I had his back. He had been there with my father when he started to seize and urged the family members that were there that my father didn’t need tea or rest but needed to go to the hospital. My father was eventually airlifted by helicopter to the main hospital on the island. Had it not been for my brother’s aggressive demand, my father would probably not be with us today.
I had planned to stay for a week and return if I needed to. We visited dad every day. There were days when he would sleep all the way through. Then he woke up and slowly came to. It was difficult to watch. He recalled childhood memories. Spoke of people who were no longer here. But once he realized he was still in Guadeloupe, he knew he wanted to go home. You see, the night he had the seizure, they were supposed to fly back to New York the following morning.
As we prepared to fly back to New York, my father was transported through the terminal by wheelchair. He was fresh out of the hospital. He was only released because the hospital staff insisted that we get him back home where he can be stabilized. My father could not stand much less walk, so my brother and cousin carried him to and from the car. When we arrived at the airport, my father was placed in a wheelchair. We processed the baggage and proceeded through security. We boarded the flight. It would be 3-4 hours to Miami. I was scared but glad he made it this far to travel back home.
When we reached Miami, my father was the last passenger off because he needed wheelchair assistance. A muscular man brought the wheelchair on board, lifted my father into the chair, and pushed him off. We had to go through customs but there were only 30-minutes in between for my father, aunt, and brother to catch the connecting flight to LaGuardia Airport. In order to catch the flight we had to hurry. We encountered an elevator that was out of service. How were we going to get my father up two flights of stairs? The gentleman pushing my father said he couldn’t lift the chair up the stairs. We grew desperate. My father couldn’t miss this flight. His life actually depended on it.
Without a second thought, I dropped my bags. I instructed my brother to grab dad’s feet. I’ll hold him from the back. I told my father he needed to stand up so we could position ourselves. I instructed the wheelchair guy to fold the chair up and meet us at the top of the stairs. In that moment, the adrenaline rushed through me, and within a matter of minutes, my brother and I carried our father up two flights of stairs. We placed him back in the wheelchair and proceeded to customs. The wheelchair guy said, “Girl you are strong!” I replied, "That’s my father and he needs to get home.”
Watching my father struggle back to his normalcy has got to be one of the most difficult things to witness. As far back as my mind will allow me to remember, my father has always been an intense disciplinarian and a hard worker mechanic. I’ve never known my father to stay home from work because he was ill. Even in sickness, this man would get up and go to work. Now, he incorporates his dialysis and doctor appointments into his work schedule. I imagine not because he enjoys working so much but because the auto shop is part of what allows him to maintain normalcy which at times can be a struggle. He still engages with his customers, the annoying ones and the nice ones alike. Although he is blind in one eye, he’s weak most times and can’t stand for long periods of time, he still drives himself to dialysis and to the mechanic shop.
I try not to ask him how he’s feeling because these are opportunities for him to express his frustration. He’ll say all the time how he can’t do this (dialysis) anymore. He’s tired. I tell him he can’t give up and he curses me.
“You can’t tell me I can’t give up. You don’t know what this feels like. This is no way to live!”
He’s right. I don’t know what it feels like and this probably isn’t the way to live. Perhaps he’s suffering more now trying to live as he only knows how. My father and I haven’t always had the best relationship. There were times I struggled with deciding if I even wanted a relationship with him because I thought he was such a horrible person. I went about ten years without speaking to him while living in the same house. I’m older and I’ve learned to let things go because it was just too heavy to carry. In saying that, there are things I would do differently. My father was a Caribbean man raising seven American children. I understand that now as an adult and having raised my own child, I encounter the same frustration my parents experienced with me.
Sometimes it’s hard to be the bigger person. My father has never told me that he loves me or that he is proud of me. He has never attended any of my graduations. (I’ve graduated 5 times). I have to consider that maybe these are the things he deals with in his illness. Maybe he is proud of me but doesn’t feel he needs to tell me because I should just know. Perhaps he doesn’t tell me he loves me because he is my father and that I should already know that he does. It used to be a struggle for me, not knowing what my father really thinks of me and what I’ve accomplished, but it isn’t anymore. I have concluded that my parents came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children. They did the best they could and I am extremely honored they are my parents. I speak highly of them to anyone and because of this, I honor my duty to care for them in illness.
I’m hesitant sometimes to share my living situation with the people I meet because I live with my parents. Not because I’m an irresponsible adult but because it’s best that I’m there to help. Having to explain that repeatedly grows weary so I try to avoid talking about it most of the time. Being there is part of what I owe my parents and in this way, I honor them now so that I won’t be remorseful that I hadn’t later. On occasion, I’ll cook for my father or carry him to watch a cricket match in the park. He’ll share funny stories from his younger days and we’ll go back and forth with family gossip. These times now, I cherish the most. We should’ve done many things before when we were both younger, but we didn’t. Instead of living in the past and trying to make sense of an expired time, we move forward. We make our good memories now.
I’m honest with myself. I know my father’s time is limited and knowing this has enabled me to act sooner than later. I’ve taken a mature position to make sure that we are in a good place at all times. This has been important to me for some time now. And I’m happy to know that if I never did anything to please him during his life, at the very least I was there in the end.